Once you’re a few years into your career as an early years professional, you are likely to find more junior colleagues look to you for support. Whilst it’s important not to upset the balance of your organisation’s line management structure, you can still be of great help to fellow professionals. Here are some helpful tips on how to be an effective mentor in your setting...
Although a mentorship relationship involves 2 people, as the mentor it’s important that you do the preparation. You need to be confident that you are in the right place personally and professionally to act as an effective mentor. It might be a sensible idea to discuss the idea with your manager, or a mentor of your own, to get their input. This is especially important if you are considering offering support to a colleague who is under performing. A strong manager will be pleased to have your help in working to improve someone’s performance, but only if you are working with, and not against their management.
Once you’re happy that you are ready to take on a mentee, it’s time to think about who to reach out to. In some sectors it is not unusual for ambitious juniors to seek out and approach people for mentorship. However, in early years, it is much more likely that you will be the one to offer a colleague your support. Consider who you are best placed to assist, and who is likely to be receptive to your offer of help. It’s so important that when offering mentorship to someone you are clear that you’re not suggesting they are weak or in need of help. Mentorship is about you investing your experience to give a colleague an extra boost.
An effective mentor will rapidly become their mentee’s go-to person for advice and support. As the mentor, you need to be ready to respond when they do. Assuming you work with your mentee regularly, take some time to quietly observe them at work. A mentor is often uniquely placed to provide constructive criticism to their mentee without it causing upset.
We all experience tough days as early years professionals, and as a mentor you need to be willing to help your mentee through theirs. It might be a case of giving them a ring the evening after a difficult day to talk through how they’re feeling, and help them see the positives. If you’re mentoring someone who is under pressure from management, you can be a useful presence in formal meetings, and to debrief with your mentee afterwards.
The main reason for mentoring someone is to give them and their career an extra boost. The result is therefore often a promotion, or gaining additional responsibility. A big part of a mentor’s role is to keep their ear to the ground for potential opportunities their mentee could seize upon. As a longer term, more senior member of staff, you may well be included in conversations which your mentee is not. A loyal and effective mentor will speak up in these circumstances to share their mentees strengths and suitability for the new opportunity. There’s no better feeling as a mentor than seeing your mentee move on to bigger and better things, especially when you’ve been able to help them on the way.
Alongside all this energy and attention you’ll be paying your mentee, it’s vital not to neglect your own work. As a mentor, you are opening yourself up to be a role model not only of your mentee, but of other colleagues too. Make sure that your practice is on point every day. When those occasions crop up when you’d like to be a bit sharp with a parent, or where you’re tempted to cut a corner to save some time – remember that your mentee is watching and learning from what you do.
Being an effective mentor is no easy ride. It takes time, a lot of energy and even more dedication. That said, it can also be super rewarding to see the impact you can have on a junior colleague’s life and career, just like it is when you affect the children in your care.